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Energy Descent: Public Letter

April 19, 2024

Ed. note: This piece is a public letter that you can sign if you wish to show your support. The links to see who has signed already and how to add your signature are at the bottom of the piece. The letter is written by “A group of us in Ontario, Canada, who have been doing some collective analysis on energy descent for the last couple of years. Inspired to take action we’ve drafted a public letter and have begun collecting signatures and endorsements from mainly community-based environmental activists in our communities here in Ontario. We hope to get 30 signatures by Earth Day. Our goal here is to continue to foster the energy descent conversation as well as invite people to publicly endorse the concept, who otherwise haven’t. It’s been fascinating to hear people’s responses as we ask them for signatures.” Isaiah Ritzmann, who is named as the author of the article on, is the liaison for the group in Ontario, who are all contributing to the work and research in support of the public letter.

Energy transition is essential. But it’s not enough. We also need to prepare to live with less energy in the future.

It is not enough to adopt clean technology. We also need to prepare to live with less energy. This preparation includes new cultural norms, new institutions, and new infrastructure – not just new technology.  And it’s a collective preparation. It’s something we need to do together. We can’t do it alone.

Scientists say we have less than two decades to avoid the worst effects of climate change. We therefore must transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. We must replace coal and oil with solar and wind. The first step to avoid catastrophic climate change is abandoning fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Energy transition is essential, but the question of how we transition may be even more important. We have options before us and they are not all equal.

The first set of options we will call Energy-as-Usual. This set of options stresses replacing fossil fuels with renewables and gaining greater energy efficiency. But that’s it. Otherwise, this option envisions society continuing to consume energy at present levels. We don’t need to prepare to live with less energy, it says. We just need to prepare to live with different energy sources.

The second set of options we will call Energy Descent. This set of options stresses replacing oil and coal with solar, wind, and other renewables. It also stresses the need for greater energy efficiency. But it adds as absolutely indispensable the need to prepare to live with less energy. We need more than different energy sources. We need different energy societies.

Those who believe in energy descent believe that while we must abandon fossil fuels as quickly as possible it is highly unlikely that we can continue to consume as much energy as we have been. And it’s even less likely that we can do so in a just way. The case against energy-as-usual goes something like this:

  1. We Don’t Have Time. The renewable energy technology (i.e. solar panels, wind turbines, etc.) needed to supply current levels of energy consumption is staggering – to deploy this infrastructure will take more time than we have.
  2. Material Footprints. It is an unsettled question whether there are enough non-renewable resources and rare earth materials to physically build all the solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries we need.
  3. Climate Colonialism. The scale and speed at which we need to deploy renewables will expand the exploitation of marginalized peoples all around the world who live near the mining sites. Destruction of livelihoods and lives, dispossession, and forced relocation will increasingly be imposed by force. This isn’t just a risk. It’s already happening.
  4. Environmental Degradation. It’s not just people. The scale and speed at which we need to deploy renewables would incentivize the exploitation of ecologies worldwide. We would see the loss of biodiversity, deforestation, loss of wetlands, peatland, etc. In fact, we are already seeing this. And the transition has only just begun.
  5. Nature of Renewable Energy. Renewable energy differs not only in the quantity of energy it can deliver, but the kind of energy. For example renewable energy is intermittent – the sun is not always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing. And while we hope we get there soon, we have yet to resolve our battery storage challenges.
  6. Political Reality. Governments have hardly begun to take the transition away from fossil fuels seriously. Even if we could transition to renewables and continue current levels of energy consumption, every year that becomes more challenging with inaction. Even if it were possible at some point, it eventually becomes impossible.

A future with less energy is likely. But a desirable future is not inevitable. A future with no preparation for living with less energy is not where we can meet everyone’s needs. And it certainly won’t be innovative, meaningful, or joyful. Yet a future with less energy can be desirable if we get ready for it. If we prepare we can find ways to meet everyone’s needs. And we can do so in innovative, meaningful, and joyful ways.

A desirable future includes more bikes, buses, and heat pumps. More clothes that last. More repair skills. Less flying, driving, and buying for sure – but more time, more creative pursuits, and more community. There will be less energy to go around – but there will be more equality and more meaningful ways of living.

This future may have less energy – but it will have more of what really matters.

Link to see who has signed the letter so far:

Link to sign the letter: